Friday, April 23, 2004

Pfizer restates opposition to Canadian drugs

By Jim Suhr
The Associated Press

CLAYTON, Mo. - Pfizer Inc. refused to budge Thursday from its opposition to Americans seeking cheaper prescription medicines from Canada - despite what Minnesota's governor calls a widening election-year "prairie fire" push to legalize the practice.

As about a dozen seniors protested the company's stance outside its annual meeting, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive Henry McKinnell said the "importation of medicines across America's borders poses a clear threat to patient safety."

Considering that foreign drugs aren't controlled, "are small savings on a fraction of the nation's health care bill worth the risks to safety?" McKinnell asked.

While importing cheaper drugs from Canada "looks like an easy fix" for patients, he said, the practice exposes all Americans "to a rising tide of counterfeit drugs," most indistinguishable from legitimate ones.

New York-based Pfizer's unwavering stance came a day after a bipartisan group of senators introduced the latest legislative proposal to let Americans fill their prescriptions in Canada, eventually allowing drugs to be imported from 20 industrialized countries, mainly Europe.

The White House, Republican congressional leaders and the pharmaceutical industry remain opposed, citing Pfizer's safety concerns and worries that such measures would lead to a spike in counterfeit drugs in this country.

Though federal law bars the importation of Canadian medications, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not prosecuted individuals who purchase prescriptions drugs across the border.

Several cities and states facing budget crises already have turned to Canada to buy prescription drugs for workers or made it easier for residents to hook up with Canadian Internet pharmacies. Among them: Minnesota, whose governor on Thursday directly challenged Pfizer to help find ways to balance world prices.

"As you know there is a prairie fire that's been set across America on these issues," Gov. Tim Pawlenty told McKinnell during the meeting held in a St. Louis suburb.

None of the seven shareholder proposals on Thursday's agenda specifically involved imported prescription drugs. But one measure asked that the company detail by September how it is keeping price increases of its most-prescribed drugs at or below the inflation rate.

That measure was overwhelmingly defeated.

Pfizer has said importation threatens its long-term ability to innovate, and that people who can't afford U.S. prices look into the company's discount programs.

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